By Gary Toth, USA Cycling official, Stephentown, New York
In the United States, cycling is one of the few sports to have ability categories as well as classification of athletes by age and gender (most other UCI-member nations do not). As cycling grew, ability categories of 1, 2, and 3 were first introduced in the 1970’s to group athletes by ability and to reduce field sizes. As the number of licensed racers continued to grow, and each time that the lowest ability category grew to an unwieldy number and contained a wide range of abilities within it, USA cycling created a new lowest category, first category 4 for both men and women and, a few years ago, category 5 just for men.
If you are a beginning male racer, whether you purchase an annual racing license or a one-day license at the event you are entering, you are a category 5. The rules require that Cat 5s race in smaller fields than higher categories, at most 50 when racing by themselves or 75 when combined with any other ability, age or gender classification. Also, you can only complete in races in which category 5s are eligible. For example, a master 35+ race is OK for all categories including Cat 5, a master 35+ race specifying cat 1-4 only is not open to Cat 5s.
USA cycling intends for category 5 to be a “try it” category for new racers to gain experience and transition out of. As an incentive to move up to category 4 and above, 5s are not permitted to receive prizes of value (cash or merchandise) and may only be awarded trophies, medals or certificates.
So how do you get out of category 5? You can apply directly to USA Cycling through your online account, or directly to your local NYSBRA representative – either way, he/she will be the one reviewing your results to determine if you qualify to upgrade. And upgrading is specific to discipline – you upgrade separately for road, track and cyclocross, and may be different categories in each.
Upgrading procedures are explained in detail on the NYSBRA web site under “Road Racing” (http://www.nysbra.com/road/upgrades/) and are set out in section 1E of the USA Cycling rules, which can be downloaded in parts or the entire book at http://www.usacycling.org/news/user/story.php?id=4220. Bascially, for road or cyclocross, you must complete 10 massed start races (time trails don’t count) of the minimum length – 15 miles for road races and 10 miles/20 minutes for criteriums. For track, you must complete four days of track racing or a velodrome class for new racers. Either way, the upgrade evaluator will be validating your results as recorded in the USA Cycling results and rankings database (http://www.usacycling.org/results/), so make sure the promoters of the races you compete in send their results to USA Cycling! Of course, training rides, even if under USAC permit, gran fondos, and unpermitted races do not qualify for upgrading. Upgrades from 4 up to higher categories are more complicated, with formulas for accumulating upgrade points by placing in races.
There are some new wrinkles for category 5 this year – the biggest is the new cyclocross category 5, for which upgrading is MANDATORY after you have completed your 10 races (It’s optional in the other disciplines). Also, completion of USA Cycling sanctioned rider education clinics can substitute for some of the required races. USA Cycling is also developing a program for mentoring of category 5s by category 3 and higher riders. And now cat 5 riders can enter time trials for any category. It all adds up to more pathways and incentives to improve as a cyclist and test yourself against stiffer competition.